The Immortal Hour

The small rewards of small-scale opera


Perhaps I should come clean straightaway and admit that, despite the fact that OperaUpClose is about to celebrate its fifth birthday, I’d never been to see one of its shows before last week. This has not been a conscious decision;… Read more

Composer Giacomo Puccini; scenes from performances of Tosca in 1956 and 2010 Photo: Getty

In defence of Puccini


During my opera-going lifetime the most sensational change in the repertoire has, of course, been the immense expansion of the baroque repertoire, with Monteverdi, Rameau and above all Handel being not only revived but also seen now as mainstays in… Read more

Charlotte Salomen

Strauss and Hofmannsthal deserve better from the Salzburg Festival


The Salzburg Festival’s reputation might largely be one of cultural conservatism, but it made an impressive commitment to new works when it announced in 2011 that it had commissioned four operas, to be unveiled at the rate of one a… Read more

Anja Harteros (Leonora) and Vitalij Kowaljow (Marchese di Calatrava) in‘La forza del destino’

Jonas Kaufmann's illness, a muddled production – nothing can stop Bavarian State Opera's La forza del destino


Rather than brave the boos and the first reprise of Frank Castorf’s half-hearted Ring at Bayreuth, I decided to pay a visit to Munich and catch the last two days of its annual opera festival. Less of a festival, as… Read more

Theater Freiburg present Tannhauser1

In Norwich, a director is caught trying to murder Wagner’s Tannhäuser


Seventeen years ago the Norwegian National Opera staged two cycles of the Ring in Norwich’s Theatre Royal, performances that have remained vividly in the minds of anyone who saw them. Now Theater Freiburg has visited Norwich with two performances each… Read more

La Traviata, Glyndebourne

I can’t see the point of Glyndebourne’s La traviata


One of the highlights of last year’s Glyndebourne Festival was the revival of Richard Jones’s Falstaff, spruced up and invigorated by Mark Elder’s conducting of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a beautifully balanced cast. Elder is also… Read more


Buxton Festival sticks its neck out with two rarities by Dvorak and Gluck


Dvorak’s The Jacobin and Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, the two operas that opened this year’s Buxton Festival, are both relative rarities today, but their creators’ fortunes tell an interesting story. Dvorak’s operas — or at least Rusalka — joined the… Read more


Royal Opera's Maria Stuarda: pathos and nobility from Joyce DiDonato, lazy nonsense from the directors


London is lucky to have heard Joyce DiDonato at the height of her powers in two consecutive seasons. The American mezzo has arguably done less well out of the arrangement, however, finding herself at the centre of two disappointing new… Read more

Mats Almgren as Hagen, Eric Greene as Gunther and Orla Boylan as Gutrune Photo: Clive Barda

Opera North's Götterdämerung is astounding (nearly)


It seems a very short time since I interviewed Richard Farnes about Opera North’s planned Ring cycle, the dramas to be done one a year, semi-staged in an idiosyncratic way. In fact, it is four years, and now the complete… Read more

Barbie doll: Kristine Opolais as Manon

Manon Lescaut: Puccini’s Anna Nicole?


This season has already seen Manon Lescaut appear in several different operatic guises across the UK, but it was Covent Garden’s new production of Puccini’s version (its first staging of it in three decades) that was the hottest ticket of… Read more

Clive Bayley in his guise as knight-errant

Tilting at metronomes: Massenet's Don Quichotte opens at Grange Park Opera


To suggest that the ageing Jules Massenet identified himself with the title character of his Don Quichotte is nothing new — and late works such as this by definition encourage biographical interpretations. One of the main liberties of the opera,… Read more

The busyness of it all is tiring: it feels like not just one West End musical, but several crammed together on to the same stage

Terry Gilliam turns to eye-watering excess for his staging of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini


Operas about artists are not rare. However — perhaps for obvious reasons — those artists tend to be musicians, singers, or at least performers, able to persuade and cajole both us in the audience and the other characters on stage… Read more

DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES - Royal Opera, Main Stage, 2014

Dialogues des Carmélites brings out the best in Poulenc – and the Royal Opera House


Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is an audacious work, much more so than many others that advertise their audacity. It deals with Love and Death, the central topics of opera, but the love is that of God; and death, rather than… Read more

Towering but vulnerable presence: John Tomlinson as Moses

WNO's production of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron is an overwhelming experience – but make sure you close your eyes


On paper, Moses und Aron might seem intractable and abstract: a 12-tone score setting a libretto that meditates on God, faith, the essential inadequacy of language to express the ineffable, and a great deal more. Put it in the theatre,… Read more

Octavian (Tara Erraught), Baron Ochs (Lars Woldt) and the Marschallin (Kate Royal)

A Rosenkavalier without a heart ain’t much of a Rosenkavalier


In all its minute details, Der Rosenkavalier is rooted in a painstakingly stylised version of Rococo Vienna that, paradoxically, is further fixed in a web of cannily juxtaposed anachronisms. Upset their balance and you risk upsetting the balance of the… Read more

Beguiling musicality: Sébastien Guèze as Rodolfo and Gabriela Istoc as Mimì in Opera North’s ‘La Bohème’

Two Mimi-Rodolfos at Opera North who go from nought to frisky very believably


Purists might have winced at Opera North’s advertisement for its latest revival of La Bohème. ‘If you see one musical this year,’ it said, ‘see this opera.’ Such rhetoric might invite unhelpful discussion of the relative merits of each genre,… Read more

Julian Anderson and Frank McGuinness in Thebans Photo: Tristram Kenton

More woe for Oedipus


I had high hopes for Julian Anderson’s first opera, Thebans. Premièred at the Coliseum last Saturday, it promised to mark a departure from the trendiness of ENO’s recent commissions, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, for example, or the dreadful Sunken Garden… Read more

Memorable: Joseph Guyton as Andrei Khovansky in ‘Khovanskygate’

Khovanskygate is about the dreadfulness and possible glory of being Russian


Within the space of a few weeks we have had the rare chance of seeing the two great torsos of Russian opera, Borodin’s Prince Igor, unfinished because the composer was often otherwise engaged, and Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, unfinished because its composer… Read more

Opera Lyon_Peter Grimes Benjamin Britten

Britten’s worldwide reputation is enhanced in Lyon


One of the proudest boasts to come from Britten HQ in Aldeburgh during the composer’s anniversary last year was that performances of his works were proliferating across the globe — and not just in the UK — as never before.… Read more

Bryn Terfel as Méphistophélès and Simon Keenlyside as Valentin in ‘Faust

Bryn Terfel lords it over 'Faust' magnificently


There’s a great deal to disapprove of in Gounod’s Faust. It breaks down a pillar of western literature and whisks up what remains into a flouncy French fancy. It turns the hero’s famous striving into mere lust — for a… Read more

Amanda Roocroft as the Duchess in ‘Powder Her Face’

Mixed results from the ENO and ROH in their seasonal away games


It’s been a spring tradition for several years now for English National Opera to present small-scale productions in various venues around London. But this year the Royal Opera followed suit, heading across the Thames to the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse… Read more

Emily Magee as Empress; Johan Botha as Emperor © ROH / Clive Barda

The snobbery and sweaty brows of watching opera in the cinema


I remain puzzled that, so far as I know, no daily or weekly paper carries reviews of the New York Met opera relays (I’m not a denizen of the blogosphere, where they may well swarm). To judge from the number… Read more

Ariodante at the Royal Academy of Music

Handelian pleasures vs modern head-scratchers


Opera seems almost always to have been acutely concerned with its own future. These days this is most often manifested in occasionally desperate, sometimes patronising attempts to entice new audiences to the art form. A new three-way initiative between Aldeburgh… Read more

Emily Magee as Empress; Johan Botha as Emperor © ROH / Clive Barda

The Royal Opera House's Die Frau ohne Schatten – a dream solution to Strauss’s problem opera?


If ever an opera was weighed down by its creators’ joint ambition, it is Die Frau ohne Schatten. Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal quickly began to imagine their third true collaboration, produced during the 1910s but not… Read more

Smitten: Jason Bridges (Armand) and Sarah Tynan (Manon) in ‘Boulevard Solitude’

Opera's fallen women


Opera’s grim fascination with ‘fallen women’ — as Welsh National Opera has called its latest mini-season — lies largely in the spectacle of the fall itself. But in Hans Werner Henze’s Boulevard Solitude, the composer’s 1952 operatic debut, the heroine… Read more

Kelly Cae Hogan (Lady Macbeth) and Béla Perencz (Macbeth)

ENO's Rodelinda: near-perfect singing, perfectly gimmicky direction


I wasn’t going to write about Handel’s Rodelinda, wasn’t even intending to go, but thanks to the kindness of the press office at ENO I did, and it was so marvellous that I can’t resist expressing my delight. Not that… Read more

Clean-voiced and suave: Mark Wilde as the balladeer Jonny Inkslinger in‘Paul Bunyan’

Why is Tippett's King Priam so difficult to love?


The difference between lovable, likable and admirable is perhaps more significant in the operatic world than in other artistic spheres — and is often, alas, translatable directly into all-important box-office receipts. The most ambitious production in English Touring Opera’s spring… Read more

Rigoletto performed by The English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Rigoletto in a gentleman's club


So it’s farewell to the fedoras and adieu to the jukebox. After 32 years of service, Jonathan Miller’s Little Italy staging of Rigoletto has been given the heave-ho by English National Opera and replaced by a younger model. First seen… Read more